Friday, January 15, 2010

Christian Happiness and Self Denial

About a decade ago I had a good friend, Rob, who was a youth pastor in a large Apostolic Lutheran church. He was a good man, humble and cared a great deal about the kids he worked with, including some of my own.

It didn’t take long to realize that Rob was being severely manipulated and I would say, “spiritually abused,” by his senior pastor, Dave.

Dave was a very popular pastor. He was charismatic in personality and in theology. He had a direct link to God, so he thought, and God told him such and such each every day. It just so happens that the things that God told Dave were also the very things that would give some type of benefit to the pastor.

But with a booming voice, cobalt blue eyes and extreme confidence, parishioners fell in love with Dave and considered him a real man of God . . . a modern day prophet.

This made it really difficult on Rob. Dave had him under his thumb and demanded more and more “self-denial” by Rob, which translated into things that he had to do for his boss, like conducting services, giving up salary, driving buses. If ever you went against Dave’s orders, not only did you receive a scolding but his “righteous” anger would reach almost the point of physical abuse.

My friend finally saw the light. But going against this popular pastor was very difficult. In the end, the pastor split the huge church in half. He defined those that followed him to a new church in a nearby school as “God’s chosen” and those who stayed, as Satan’s people.

But I remember Rob coming out of this situation very depressed and disillusioned. He bounced around between several ideas over the subsequent couple of years. One of them (as a pendulum swing from his extreme self-denial) was what he called “Christian Hedonism.”

With Christian Hedonism, he so stated, was knowing that you are completely covered by the blood of Christ, therefore you should do whatever you desired to do. If you wanted to drink a case of Pilsner and get plastered, that was fine. The issue of sin didn’t matter just doing what you want and that would bring real happiness.

This phase did not last long for Rob, thank goodness. Once again, I think it was just a gut reaction from being abused for so long.

But this is just an introduction to this whole concept of “self denial” and the main question is, has this concept been abuse? Misunderstood? Used to manipulate people? Is there a Dualistic influence in the way we interpret self denial, taking in more of the Buddhist or Hindu approach than a true Biblical idea. Does a constant denial of self, in the misguided way, take away from some of our contentment or happiness?

I will close with one of the key versed that self denial has been taken from over the centuries. I want to mediate on this and get back.

Luke 9

21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."
23Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."


Anonymous said...

I think that self-denial becomes dangerous when, instead of denying *things* from oneself, a person denies *who they are*, as in their personality, their thoughts, their feelings.

Because Jesus practiced self-denial, it is often assumed that the Christian is supposed to deny self in all things. But this isn't true, because Jesus did not practice self-denial in all things, or in all circumstances, etc.

He died when *HE* wanted to die, not when others wanted to kill Him. There were times when they tried to, but He walked away (that wasn't "self-denial").

Abused women are often told to practice self-denial towards their abusive husbands, like Jesus did on the cross, but that's poor teaching for the sole reason that Jesus only suffered when He wanted to. He didn't suffer when He didn't want to (ie, the dude went to parties, etc).

So if an abused woman, for example, feels like God is calling her to stay, fine. But to tell all abused women that they are ALL to practice this wacko view of self-denial in ALL of their marriages is nuts....yet it is often what is taught.

Because "self-denial" is such an integral part of the "Biblical womanhood," teachings, it was something that took me a long time to come out of. Nowadays, I deny myself when it is healthy to do so, AND when I *want* to.

Before, I had no choice. Now, I get to choose. It is so hard not to feel terribly guilty when you actually stand up for yourself after years of thinking that a good Christian woman won't. ...But, as with all things, practice sure helps. I'm getting better. :)

I think that true Spirit-led self-control (sometimes called self-denial) is a good and healthy thing. I think the fundamentalist version of "self-denial" is sick, and easily manipulated by evil people to cause harm to believers.

Love this always. :)

MJ said...

Great points. Too many times I've seen those who are demanding self denial of others considering themselves exempt.

Don Hendricks said...

I hope you are not refering to the Christian Hedonism popularized by John Piper, because that book has nothing to do with loose living???

Good thoughts and important ones.

MJ said...

No Don, I'm sure not. I don't know much about Piper's concept. However, when you take what my friend was talking about, within its context about 15 years ago, it seems to be something quite different.

He came out of a very bad situation, exhausted, depressed and bitter (like many of us are at a time like that). His view, for a few months at least was, "I am never, ever doing what someone else wants me to do. From now on I only do what I want to do. I go where I want to go, I eat what I feel like eating, I read what I want etc. So I don't think it had a higher goal of being completely happy in God's glory, but just tried of being under someone else's thumb.

In extreme cases, I've see guys dump their families and take off with the office chickie-poo after going through a hard time. Something along that line. However, my friend came back to his senses before he did anything that he would regret.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a very strict Apostolic Lutheran Church. I guess that's why so much of what you say clicks with me. I have seen many people try and fight the "system" and either buckle under or go swinging way out to the everything goes mode of thinking. My parents actually left the stricter version of our church and went to a break away where they were told, "you walk through the gates of Hell when you walk into that church"

I guess because the pastor did not use the approved hymnal and he couldn't be approved by the board because he wouldn't say that drinking wine was a sin and admitted to having a glass on occasion.

Anonymous said...

I was raised in a very strict Apostolic Lutheran Church. I guess that's why so much of what you say clicks with me. I have seen many people try and fight the "system" and either buckle under or go swinging way out to the everything goes mode of thinking.

Like Preacher's Kids who grow up to be either Marilyn Manson or Fred Phelps.

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